WILKES-BARRE — He was the kind of man who stopped at an accident scene and gave a stranger a blanket.
Who used to dance the lady who trimmed his hair — and bushy eyebrows — down the hall.
Who got down on one knee and — ever the showman — kissed the hand of a high school secretary when she mentioned she loved shopping at his store.
Those are just a few of the dozens of anecdotes three grandchildren of the late Al Boscov have compiled in a tribute to their grandfather called “Did You Boscov Today?” The paperback is available for $6.99 in all of the Boscov’s department stores, including Wilkes-Barre’s downtown anchor, and proceeds will go to charity.
Readers will soon discover, if they didn’t know it already, that the verb “to Boscov” doesn’t mean to visit a retail outlet but to emulate the compassionate, energetic family man and business leader.
“Did you sing in the morning? Did you have a nice conversation with someone you didn’t know before?” grandson Josh Aichenbaum said in a telephone interview. “It’s not ‘did you shop’ but ‘did you live in a way that would make him proud?’ With him as your role model, it’s about being your best self.”
“Did you treat people the way you’d like to be treated?” added grandson Jonah Boscov-Brown. “Did you make your community a better place?”
“For me, it’s learning how to be empathetic, and helping other people,” said granddaughter Amelia Xanthe Boscov. “Treat everyone like family.”
Boscov died in February, shortly after announcing he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and it was at a memorial service that one of Boscov’s long-time store managers, Joanne Barker, reminisced about the way her boss used to jump up and down and remark “he’s so strong” when shaking her little boy’s hand.
“There should be a book of memories about Albert,” she said.
Thanks to the efforts of Aichenbaum; his cousins, Boscov-Brown and Amelia Xanthe Boscov; and the many friends, relatives and employees who shared their stories, Barker’s idea came to fruition.
“There’s a lot of wonderful stories,” Aichenbaum said. “I remember laughing so hard, just hearing about the tremendous bus chase. It was larger than life.”
That story, shared by Boscov’s Travel staffer Pat Cinfici, tells how Boscov once drove 80 mph, then 90 mph on Route 422 “in this rickety little car,” trying to catch up to three busloads of people who were going to fly from Philadelphia to Florida. He had promised them a McDonald’s breakfast, to make up for an earlier-than-expected departure, and at about 4 a.m., actually “pulled in front of them and went sideways on 422” to get them to stop.
As he distributed the breakfasts, Boscov charmed everyone, Cinfici said, including the bus drivers.
Keeping a promise was important to Boscov, but he also had a mischievous side that started when he was a youngster, holding out a fork, instead of a spoon, for the daily dose of cod liver oil his father wanted him to swallow.
With a preference for sweeter fare, Boscov, even as an adult, used to grab a handful of M&Ms from a jar while a more reserved co-worker limited himself to five pieces.
“He was always sneaking candy,” Aichenbaum said. “He never lost the childlike aspect of his personality. He was always curious, always having fun, and always caring about other people.”
Anecdotes in the book explain how Boscov met his future wife, Eunice, at a tennis club; how he advised a daughter to follow her dreams; how he taught a grandson to swim; and how he reminded an employee to tell his own children every day that he loved them.
Public relations manager Irene Kelly shared the story about how Boscov led the drive that transformed the old Paramount Theater in Wilkes-Barre into the F.M. Kirby Center for the Preforming Arts in the 1980s, and also how she organized the first “A Blanket from Al” charity drive at the Boscov’s stores in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Scranton and Pottsville earlier this year.
Kelly’s inspiration for the recent drive came when she learned that Al, while still dating Eunice, stopped his car and gave a blanket to an accident victim in New England.
Boscov’s concern for others shines through in the book, as does his knack for making his department stores fun to visit, whether he was arranging promotions that involved the glamorous actress Sophia Loren, scheduling a visit from a roller-skating chimp or pretending a family of make-believe hillbillies was taking a turn at running Boscov’s.
“He was smart, business-wise, and also just creative,” Aichenbaum said. “So creative.”
“He had a really special connection with the community in Wilkes-Barre,” Amelia Xanthe Boscov said.
“He loved Wilkes-Barre,” Aichenbaum confirmed.